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The Consumer Show

Series 6 Programme 6

The Consumer Show

ITEM 1: Food intolerances
With a growing number of people claiming to have a food intolerance in Ireland, RTE's The Consumer Show investigates the world of food intolerance and takes a closer look at one of the leading type of food intolerance tests on the market.

Having a food intolerance has become quite commonplace and the first place you see this is on restaurant menus in Ireland, where a greater number of intolerances are highlighted and catered for than ever before. With research stating that that 1-2% of people have an intolerance, but 20% believing they have one, consumers are definitely becoming more self-aware.

A food intolerance is very different to a food allergy. A food intolerance is a non-allergic reaction to a trigger food. Medically diagnosing an intolerance can sometimes take months of eliminating and reintroducing foods, and, while food intolerance is generally not life-threatening, it can be debilitating and leave people weary trying to detect the troublesome food over months of trial and error.

A food intolerance is very different to a food allergy. A food intolerance is a non-allergic reaction to a trigger food. Medically diagnosing an intolerance can sometimes take months of eliminating and reintroducing foods, and, while food intolerance is generally not life-threatening, it can be debilitating and leave people weary trying to detect the troublesome food over months of trial and error.

There are tests out there however that claim to try and detect your food intolerance in just a few weeks. With lots of different types of food intolerance testing available to Irish consumers, many pharmacies in Ireland are now offering a test which measures the levels of IgG antibodies in your blood. These tests can cost over ¤300.

However crucially, the promoters of these tests and the medical and scientific community are divided on what this IgG antibody actually indicates in our bodies.

Martin Healy of the Fitzwilliam Food Clinic was one of the first to introduce IgG testing to Ireland and explains his understanding of how it works when it comes to food intolerance. "If someone has an intolerance to egg, your immune system produces a particular blocking agent called an antibody. It's a specific IgG antibody and they now are able to measure the amount of antibody you are producing against foods. When people remove foods with a high antibody score, they feel significantly better."

But critics say that these antibodies are telling us that we've eaten a food, not that we are intolerant to it. Professor Jonathan Hourihane, a consultant allergist based at Cork University Hospital, says it is "an index of exposure, not an index of abnormal sensitivity".

"Everybody has antibodies against milk, egg, wheat, rice, peanut, fish, chicken, beef, lamb and pork," Prof Hourihane explains. "If you go in and have an IgG test and say you have a tummy pain, one or two of those are going to pop up."

Defenders of IgG testing point to heartfelt testimonials from hundreds of people who say they've been helped hugely by these tests.

However, Paediatric dietician and member of the Irish Food Allergy Network, Ruth Charles, says that IgG testing has been studied extensively by the European, American, Australian and Canadian Academies of Allergy & Immunology and those studies have shown repeatedly that IgG has no valid, scientific role in diagnosing or managing food intolerance.

The Consumer Show commissioned a survey on Food Intolerance in Ireland with Amárarch research, who surveyed over 1000 people around the country.
Our survey found:

  • One in 8 say that they have a food intolerance. 38% have encountered food intolerances either through themselves or a family member. (13% claimed to have a food intolerance themselves, while 25% had a family member with an intolerance.)
  • Of those intolerances, dairy intolerance was most common (38%), followed by gluten (28%) and wheat (24%).
  • With regard to diagnosis, over a third (34%) had their food intolerance diagnosed through a food intolerance test in a pharmacy, a clinic, or a self-test at home. 34% were diagnosed by their doctor. 26% were self-diagnosed, through elimination or by having a reaction. 6% did not state how they were diagnosed. Those over 35 were more likely to have visited a doctor to get their diagnosis (44%).
  • Nearly 4 in 10 Irish adults could explain the difference between an allergy and intolerance. 19% could not, while 42% were 'not sure'.
  • When asked if food intolerances were just a fad, just one in 8 Irish adults agreed. 54% disagreed or strongly disagreed.

Whether you buy your fruit and vegetables loose or packaged, Tadhg Enright shows you how hard it can be to work out which is better value per kilo.

Tadhg visited three of Ireland's leading supermarkets and found a confusing array of prices for different items of fresh produce.

You might think grabbing a packaged bag of bananas is better value than buying them loose but take the time to do the sums and you'll see the bag can cost ¤1 more per kilo.

If you buy a head of broccoli wrapped in cling film it can cost you ¤5.39 per kilo but only ¤3.15 per kilo when sold unwrapped.

We found Oranges for 49c each or we could choose a net of five for ¤2.69.

Damian O'Reilly from the DIT School of Retail Management said: "One of the issues is that some things are priced per kilo. Some things are priced per pack. The fruit in the pack and sold loose might not be the same. For example, the granny smiths in the bag might be smaller than those sold loose. That does lead to confusion for the consumer."

Tadhg found that some fruit and vegetable items are sold loose per unit and others are sold by weight. But the packaged products did not always list what weight they contained even when the loose alternative was sold by weight. That made it impossible to draw a comparison without weighing the packet and scales were not available in many of the supermarkets Tadhg visited. He asked physicist, Dr. David-Robert Grimes to help work it out with the help of some weighing scales he brought along himself.

Damian O'Reilly said there are a variety of factors dictating the price: "Loose produce, you would think, should be cheaper because it doesn't have to be packaged and therefore there should be less expense with it. On top of that though you have more wastage because people pick it up and put it down. Things get bruised and things get damaged. There's a lot more wastage in that area so that is a significant aspect for the retailers."

"With the pre-packed where you're buying multipacks, I come in to buy two or three items and I end up buying six. Therefore I'm buying multiple units of the same item so I should be getting a discount so we could look at it both ways."

The Better Energy Homes grants scheme has been overhauled in the past few weeks, seeing the abolition of previous thresholds to access grants, an increase of 25-50% on all grants, as well as a bonus payment to householders who undertake three or more energy efficiency improvements.

The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) Head of Information Tom Halpin outlines the changes:

What has changed / was recently announced for the Better Energy Homes?

  • The grant levels are all increased ranging from 25-50%
  • New bonus grants of ¤300 if you do three measures and a further ¤100 if you do a fourth measure, to incentivise deeper upgrades and return applicants
  • No minimum grant threshold (previously ¤400 worth of works)
  • Come into effect immediately including existing applicants who have not yet claimed

The grant typically represents about 30% of the cost of works.

Seven easy steps to getting a Better Energy homes grant

Choosing a Contractor
Before choosing a contractor from the SEAI registered list:

  • Talk to friends, family, or neighbours who may have done works recently
  • Shop around, get a number quotes and compare the offers
  • Check references, talk to previous customers, visit their homes if you can
  • Formalise the relationship by having a contract which details the works, prices, time, payment terms and warranties

The products supported through the scheme are subject to minimum performance standards and contractors are subject to regular quality inspections which together give customers greater confidence and assurance.

Can I avail of the Home Renovation Incentive and the Better Energy Homes scheme at the same time?

Yes homeowners may avail of both the Home Renovation Incentive (HRI) and Better Energy Homes when upgrading their home. Where a home is availing of Better Energy Homes and Home Renovation Incentive the applicant must deduct three times the Better Energy Homes grant value from the Home Renovation Incentive qualifying expenditure. Note: all Better Energy grant-related expenditure can count towards meeting the ¤5,000 minimum threshold. The Home Renovation Incentive will provide a tax credit at 13.5% of qualifying expenditure (minimum ¤5,000 excl. VAT, maximum ¤30,000 excl. VAT) on repair, renovation or improvement work carried out on a principal private residence. The works must be completed by a tax compliant contractor on the applicant's principal private residence. The credit will be payable over two years following the year in which the work is carried out. Full details of HRI are available from Revenue's website:


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